If you’re the coach’s son, you’re often on the end of unwarranted criticism and constant scrutiny. That’s because it’s easy to render criticism to the ones you love most. But, when you’re the son of an NFL coach, it’s an entire different ball game.
Junior wide receiver Austin Roberts of Carmel (Ind.) High School is the son of Alfredo Roberts, the tight ends coach for the Indianapolis Colts. Roberts holds offers from some of the nation’s premier football programs, including Alabama, Florida, and Ohio State. But, just hanging around his dad on a Sunday, Austin gains perspective on what it means to truly be considered one of the best.
“Austin gets to be one of the better players on his team at Carmel, and that’s good for his confidence, but then he comes out to our practices and sees Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen practice, and he realizes, ‘Hey, I’m not that good, yet,’” Alfredo Roberts said. “I have to remember too that I can’t expect Austin, who is 17-years old, to be as good as these guys that I coach who are at least 22-years old. Austin wants to hear it, though. He wants to hear the good and the bad about what he’s doing on the field.”
Before coaching the Colts, Roberts held the same position at Tampa Bay. However, after a Buccaneers’ 4-12 record in 2011, Roberts knew it was going to be time for a change.
“Austin and [twin brother] Avery came to me, and they said, ‘We know what we’ve got to do, Dad,’” Roberts said. “That was big. I was searching for a way to tell them about this move and a way to make it work, and they made it easier for me.”
Roberts said throughout the entire process, his family was his foremost priority.
“I know I’ve got a job to do and this is a tough business, but it’s not all about me,” he said. “I want to make sure my boys are in the best place to grow as young men. That was always the first thing in my mind.”
In the short time that he’s been at Carmel, Austin’s more than made the most of it.
“Austin’s been here less than a year, but he’s adjusted really well,” Alfredo Roberts said. ��He welcomed change when it would have been easy not to. He was coming off of a state championship at Plant (Tampa, Fla.), and he was seeing a lot of minutes as a sophomore. When he got to Carmel, they started playing him at outside wide receiver, when he was used to slot and tight end, and that’s been a real learning process for him.”
Moving to a new school in a new state can be a difficult thing to do, but Austin has made the transition seem easy.
“Austin is unique in a lot of ways,” Kevin Wright, head coach of Carmel, said. “He’s a great student and he’s one of the nicer kids you’ll ever meet. He has easily acclimated himself into our school and on our football team. We have over 4,500 kids at Carmel, and he fits in great. On the field, he welcomed the challenge of switching from inside receiver to being our outside guy. We run a high tempo, no-huddle offense, and he’s had to get used to that as well.”
Austin’s popularity among college coaches is partially a product of his versatility when it comes to playing different positions. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound wide receiver prefers playing slot, but he excels in other places on the field as well.
“Austin has a really high ceiling,” Wright said. “He’s 6-foot-2, still growing, and already has a 40-inch vertical jump. It’s too early to tell if he’ll end up at tight end, but he could project as an H-back. He blocks very well. He’s deceptively fast and can still put on a lot of weight.”
Though football may often be the topic of discussion at the dinner table, school work is certainly not overlooked in the Roberts’ household.
“My wife likes sports, but she’s always been about academics,” Roberts said. “Our family isn’t defined by the game. I’ve kind of had to tell her that Austin needs a balance of football and academics because he can use football to get to a good college. He’s lucky that he has the skill set to do so.”
Ironically, Austin’s mom may the culprit of the young star’s success.
“Austin and my two other kids didn’t get overwhelmed by me growing up,” Roberts said. “Austin actually reminded me the other day that he really wanted to quit youth football mid-way through the season, and I was going to let him quit, but his mother wouldn’t let him. It wasn’t because she wanted him to play football, but she just didn’t want him to quit something he had started.”
Roberts says he prefers to teach Austin the intangibles of football, rather than x and o specifics.
“I help Austin when he asks me for it,” Roberts said. “I know the game, so I will give him some pointers time to time, but I mostly teach him lessons about the game and about the integrity of the game. It’s someone else’s job to teach him how to run a route in practice. I would rather teach him discipline.”
When the subject switches to something that Austin is reaping many benefits of right now, recruiting, the coaching side of Roberts shines through, as he makes sure his son doesn’t get complacent.
“I try to stay out of the recruiting process,” Roberts said. “Yeah, I went to Miami and I’m proud of the orange and green, but this is his journey. It’s a blessing that he’s getting so much attention from other schools. He’s really appreciating the process. Every time he gets a new offer, I tell him he should go run two or three miles because someone thinks he’s that great at something.”
As far as answering the nitty gritty questions his son has about recruiting, Roberts hands that duty off to one of his own players.
“Things have changed so much since I was being recruited,” he said. “Austin actually goes to (Colts’ starting tight end) Dwayne Allen to talk about recruiting. Dwayne has been great for my sons. He calls me up on Friday nights and wants to come to their games. He’s a role model for them.”
“I’ll come to their house a lot and hang out and just play video games with them,” Dwayne Allen said. “I’m not too much older than them, so I think we can relate to a lot of things. Austin and Avery are great kids.”
Allen was heavily recruited out of high school, and before choosing Clemson, he was all but pegged down as a Georgia guy.
“I tell him to really think about what type of system is best for his playing style,” Allen said. “I tell him to really look at what type of offensive system schools are running. That’s so important. Austin might mature into a tight end, so I tell him to consider how tight ends are used. I’ve also talked to him about narrowing down his list, so he can enjoy his senior year and not have to answer so many phone calls. I told him to get it around three to five schools, so he can figure out official visits before the season starts.”
Austin says having Allen available to talk about recruiting is something that comes naturally, due to their already close relationship.
“Dwayne and I have a lot in common,” Austin said. “We argue over everything, we’re like brothers. I’ve recently been relying on Dwayne a lot more for recruiting help.”
“Austin jokes with me that he can’t go to Clemson because he can’t fill my shoes,” Allen said laughing.
Not only do the Colts help Austin with recruiting, but during home games, he gets to be on the sidelines of Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Austin helps us get pictures we need or get shots of the previous drive when he’s on the sidelines,” Roberts said. “The entire time he’s on the sidelines, he’s watching and soaking everything up. As a dad, I’m not too thrilled he gets to hear the unfiltered version of an NFL sideline, but he’s learning a lot. He gets to see how we attack teams, hear what terminology we use, and just understand how we adopt our game plan as the game progresses.”
“I got to be in the locker room with those guys,” Austin said. “It was tough in the beginning of the season with Chuck [Pagano] gone. But, after the Packers game, I knew there was going to be something special with this team.”
Colts’ sidelines, Dwayne Allen as a mentor, and a family who keeps it all in perspective?
Yeah… so maybe being a coach’s son just isn’t so bad after all.